Dave Kirkpatrick, David Wilson, Fiona Hartley, James Perry, James Wilson, Jennifer Ryder, Rebecca Diss, Rhys Tyers, Úna Barker, Ana Teck, Sharon Lin, Ruth Goh, Matti Mitropoulos, Danish Sanwal, Shiva Pingle
Packing is a quick affair despite the five freshers who dropped the trip last minute. We make a quick stop at Tesco and pick up some pumpkins, canned beans, and Soreen before continuing on our way.
We meet some older cavers (Perry, Fiona, Diss) and alumni of the club at SWCC. They tell us some exciting stories about past expeditions and tours and there is some amount of drinking that occurs. Diss says "terrifying" a few times. We excitedly gather around the fireplace in seek of warmth and drier boots.
The journey to Wales from Norwich was horrifically rainy and there were certainly no bladder related incidents involving hard shoulders. I picked Dave up from Telford which involved entering his house and meeting his mum which felt like some kind of next level knowledge of Dave’s life. I was feeling rather grim and there were scary puddles everywhere so Dave ended up driving most of the way from Telford (result!). We arrived just as the bus was being unpacked so all was extremely well timed.
OFD 2 Group 1: David Wilson, Jennifer Ryder, Matti Mitropoulos
OFD 2 Group 2: Dave Kirkpatrick, James Wilson, Ana Teck
OFD 1: Fiona Hartley, Rebecca Diss, Sharon Lin, Ruth Goh, Danish Sanwal, Shiva Pingle
I am awoken by an announcement of breakfast. Amusingly, there are strange names for the female rooms - Honeymoon and Married Quarters - which I discover are not descriptions of the activities or people inside. There are also mysterious signs to caves in France, vintage cave photography, and speleological journals askew in the dining room. The English breakfast cooked by the earlier risers, Jennifer and Rhys, is very nice and provides some welcome energy for the day.
It is decided that the freshers will go into OFD 1, although the route was fairly wet two weeks ago. We bring along cowstails for a tricky traverse and pack Bombay potatoes, ginger rhubarb jam sandwiches, Soreen, and sugary snacks. Close to the entrance, Fiona scrambled to the river and finds it too high to walk through. Apparently a bolt that is usually visible is currently submerged, and the river makes noises indicating that it's force is enough to move boulders. We take an alternative parallel route along some slightly drier passages and pass by a pool and waterfall that look appealing.
Diss and Fiona are very knowledgeable about various pretty things, such as the Bee's Knees, mud circles, curtains, and a gypsum/calcite corner. We observe a number of organic-looking cave formations and orange lines separating protected cave. There are some amusing signs and artificial floors from when the cave had been for show, but we quickly pass those by. At one point, we considered the gall of the explorers who put the bolts into the wall as we make use of our cowstails on a traverse, shouting "line free" and "ladder free" every so often.
We joined for an impromptu lunch where we turned off out headlamps to soak in the sensory deprivation. We gathered around a flat table-like rock and exchanged bites of our Soreen before realizing that the spoon was missing. Alas, no Bombay potatoes.
We later go down the Helter Skelter and across the roly poly, the most fun way to cross a passage. There are several more crawls and at one point a scramble down some well-filled pools of water with unpredictable depths. Around the point when the river starts making loud noises, we decide it is time to start exiting the cave.
At the end of the route, we dunk ourselves into the pool in an attempt to clean off the dirt from our oversuits. I fall straight into the water, but it isn't overly cold. We take a detour into Powell's Cave after emerging from the entrance and find a 100m of a rather plain looking passage compared to our previous cave.
After dinner, the pumpkins are carved. There are some very interesting designs, including a man on a toilet, an evil caver, and a Cheshire cat. Fiona teaches me about the art of wine tasting and the cavers slowly start to fall into inebriation.
The much-hinted pot and sling game is played to great amusement, followed by several impressive rounds of the squeeze machine. I am subsequently impressed by the human traversals, the final caving game of the evening.
My ambitions of visiting the Waterfall Series in OFD 1 had been washed away by the torrential rain. Ah, well. This is caving. It be like that sometimes, and sometimes like that it be. So instead Diss and I arranged for Rhys to give us a lift in the bus down the hill and then steered Sharon, Ruth, Danish and Shiva into the high level passages of OFD 1. Not gonna lie, it was mostly Diss leading as every time I ended up at the front I’d quickly encourage eyes new to the underground world to have a go at finding the way.
It was great to cave with everybody. We bimbled to Roundabout Chamber and then retreated. The streamway was spectacular, and loud. There was much more water about, including a passage right near the entrance where there is normally just a small trickle. In the few hours that we spent underground, this went from a major rushing streamway back to a small, unremarkable bed of damp boulders. I'm not truly certain where this is but think it must be Flood Passage, although it doesn't have any water marked on it on the survey.
Diss showed me where the entrance to the Subway is, but I was not able to show her The Step as even heading towards it there was a waterfall that I didn’t want to climb in unnecessarily. After a dunk in Pluto's Bath some distant deep thuds in the streamway scared us away to Gothic Sump and the surface, where the sun had decided to come out.
Caving! Somehow Fiona and I are tricked into taking all but one of the freshers to OFD1. All the rest of you are tarts! The cave was exceedingly wet and there was basically another full size streamway where there’s normally just a small inlet (where the concrete bit is) near the entrance. We went to the streamway and it was positively apocalyptic. Certain death would occur if you decided to take a dip.
We took the higher level route because we aren’t much for drowning. All occurred in the proper fashion and no freshers failed at cowstails or fell off the ladder. I feel a vague sense of doom the entire way. Water always induces fear of being flooded in. I blame Hallelujah.
There is a sulfur smell in Helter Skelter again - what is this??
We decide to live a life of luxury and eat sandwiches (ft. vegetables!) at “The Table” - a flat rock just as you emerge from Helter skelter. I had brought a tin of bombay potatoes which I was super excited for but somehow left the spoon at the hut :(
In roly poly i decide to do a real roly poly (forward roll) and smack my back fairly hard on some rock because obviously that’s what a cave floor is made of. Instant regret but I felt cool anyway.
Some things occur. We get to the Toast Rack and I fully jump into Plutos Bath after the relief that we hadn’t been flooded in. Some of the others join me. We went down to look at the streamway from the bath and the ceiling was foamy. Terrifying. Also the second stream was completely gone so the cave obviously responds fairly quickly to rain.
The streamway starts making scary noises at us and we take that as our cue to leave.
An evening of caving games commences ft. one footed pot and sling and successful human traverse with Ana. I’m pretty sure that whenever I do human traverse the other human just does it all and I'm just sort of there either being a vaguely solid climbing wall or a rather heavy weight to lift.
Powell's Cave: Fiona Hartley, Sharon Lin, Ruth Goh, Danish Sanwal, Shiva Pingle
Probably the best way to add some variety to the slog back up the hill. I had been expecting a crawl. It is in fact a big passage. I don't know why I expected a crawl when it's clearly a big passage on the survey. We walked up it. There is a single easy climb and then a steep slope which you must make sure you don't slither back down. I bet you can do this cave in 10 seconds flat if you absolutely cane it downhill and don't mind breaking your legs.
Uncle Perry's Magical Mystery Tour: Perry, Una, Rhys
A very drizzly day. By the time the teams were sorted we were left with a rather odd team of myself, Perry and Una with the idea of an OFD bimble. I had wanted to go to Northern Lights but this would’ve been flooded apparently.
I was not motivated and Perry and Una are not the most cave-keen cavers. They both said things along then lines of “I’m happy to go caving or not to go caving”. When I revealed to the other two that I didn’t think I had ever deliberately missed Saturday caving in the last 8 years they became extremely excited by the idea of escorting me on my first truant Saturday.
We waited for the rain to subside and when it didn’t left the hut to look at the ‘art’ scattered around the SWCC. This mostly consists of fly tipping as far as we could see. Standing in the rain looking at rubbish did not spark a great desire for caving so with a heavy heart I returned the OFD key we had.
So began Uncle Perry’s Magical Mystery Tour.
Perry first promised us a trip to the zoo. When he parked round the back of a pub I assumed that the zoo must have been some sort of disgusting euphemism but actually walking outside revealed the presence of a series of enclosures full of damp animals. There were moist wallabies, a variety of miserable looking tropical birds, and in an extremely steamed up glass enclosure some macaques. There was also an enclosure that invited you to imagine it contained meerkats. We managed to spend 20 minutes commiserating with the animals before being whisked away.
Stop 2 was a pub lunch, at the Ancient Briton. Highly recommended. We discussed the effectiveness of those pub men’s toilets pills you can buy. This pub had ‘mendurance’ pills and it is left to your desperate imagination to work out what they do.
Stop 3 was a Spar. Not a spa as Una was disappointed to find she had misheard. But we then decided on our grandest activity whilst loitering in the 3 space car park.
Stop 4. The Ystradfellte waterfall walk. I suggested visiting one small very nearby waterfall, but Perry demanded we go big or go home and drove us to the proper walk. As it had been pissing it down for a week we though it might be quite impressive. We arrived in the car park and found the attendant to pay for parking. We negotiated paying a car fee rather than a minibus fee by promising that we didn’t have a bunch of scouts in helmets and wellies hidden round the corner.
When Perry mentioned we were absconding cavers the attendant told Perry that he wouldn’t have guessed because Perry looks ‘too normal’. Perry quietly took offense to this. The guy also warned us that the walk would take 3 to 4 hours and that it would be dark in 2. We giggled nervously and left.
The walk was pleasant but required some acrobatics to avoid deep mud and puddles, particularly for Una who is both small and was wearing quite unsuitable trainers. None of us were particularly successful at keeping our feet dry anyway.
We found the first waterfall which was truly awesome. Perry had Vietnam-esque flashbacks on our approach but overcame his fear as we sprinted underneath the waterfall on the spray lashed ledge.
Now completely soaked we made our way to waterfalls 2,3, 4 and 5. All were spectacular and worthwhile in their own way. We were concerned that the first one might be the best and the other disappointing but this was not the case.
We made it back to the bus less than 2 hours after leaving it but sadly the attendant was gone so we had no one to gloat at. We returned to the hut where we wondered where everyone was whilst saying things like “No one could spend 6 hours in OFD 1”. Apparently you can if you’re having fun and everyone eventually appeared, happy and sated by their caving.
It remains to be seen whether this not caving thing will catch on.
Cwm Dwr: James Perry, Jennifer Ryder, Rebecca Diss
Today it was decided that I was to be the tart and go on an all presidents/ex-presidents trip in Cwm Dwr with Jennifer and Perry.
We did the same trip as seen on W0, to the confluence and back. This time ft. Jennifer who has managed to never successfully get to the confluence despite many a trip. We decide she is not allowed to have any say on the directions (except for the boulder choke because she knows this well). Turns out she was always going the right way, just got to a point where she thought the climb was a bit too sketch for freshers and always turned around. We had just done the climb before but this time Perry found a far superior bypass which is a sort of small tubey passage sloping down on the right of the boulder pile. I’m not really sure where this is in the cave and I can’t be bothered to look at a survey right now so maybe don’t try and understand what I'm saying.
On the way back we ate a decadent lunch of mexicana and cucumber plus chocolate (the chocolate was eaten separately).
A weekend of good quality and a trip report of poor quality because I left it too long ofc.
OFD 2 Group 1: Úna Barker, Ana Teck, Ruth Goh, Danish Sanwal, Shiva Pingle
OFD 2 Group 2: David Wilson, James Wilson, Sharon Lin
The other freshers (with the exception of Matti, who is embarking on a rare Welsh SRT trip) decide to go on the drier OFD 2 trip, so I take on the Maypole route with Davie and Jimmy, caving extraordinaires since the age of 14. We begin with an exciting trek through sheep country where we spot a dog. There is some bickering about the best route to take, but we eventually arrive at the entrance.
It is a relatively dry journey at first, leading us to some pretty stalactites and gypsum formations. Before long, we arrive at the Wedding Cake and take a detour along a tight crawl before going into a passage that slowly fills with water.
The corkscrew is fun and involves stuffing yourself into a squeeze and emerging near a large and treacherous hole. Along the way, there are many narrow passages and traverses that also accompany large drops, expertly navigated by Davie and Jimmy and less so by myself. I am reminded of the apparent levitation of some cavers and resolve to gain a better sense of balance.
Unlike yesterday's raging river, the underground river has calmed and left some deposits along the banks. We wade through some treacherous holes along our way. The passage widens as the water level rises. At one point, there is a shimmy that requires a 1.7m long human to traverse...unfortunately I am not that long of a human. A caveptism occurs.
The ladder comes into use during a climb up a steep cliff. A sling holds onto the rungs, providing some grip to the slippery stones. Alongside the squidgy mud slopes, many techniques and clever hand holds are observed in the art of climbing large rocks. There are also noticeably more slings used today than yesterday, although I am not one to complain about that fact.
At some point, we find Yan Jin's buff from two weeks ago that fell off from a waterfall. Davie later takes an amusing photo with the catch.
Davie decides that we ought to take a shortcut (Edward's Shortcut) along Ghome Passage - it should lead us to someplace interesting before rejoining at the top of the passage. The passage involves digging fingers into mud to provide traction, sliding along slopes and up and down large bricks, emerging at Shale Corner, and much backtracking before we arrive back at the Brick Yard. As the groups total moisture increases, the gumption to remain out of the waterfalls decreases.
We eventually make our way out long after spotting two random cavers and Úna and Ana's groups. We clean up as much of SWCC as we can, including emptying the crumbs from the toasters. On our way back, we stop at a Burger King for toilets and finally arrived back at the caving stores.
Pant Mawr: Fiona Hartley, Rhys Tyers, Matti Mitropoulos
Apparently the last time the club did this cave was Jarv's fresher weekend?! :o
We left at 11am, cunningly avoiding the morning washing up. The weather was just right for it, nice autumnal sunshine. But the fact remains that Pant Mawr is literally miles away from Penwyllt, no lies. Almost 3 miles each way!
Pant Mawr is a fine cave though, with nice formations, and enjoyable river passage. Dare I say a bit French? Other than the location itself (still worth it), everything else in the description was much closer together than I expected. Very good novice-friendly SRT pitch at the entrance. I would do it again as SRT in a heartbeat despite the extra gear needed because ladders are shit, change my mind.
Choruses of "My Heart Will Go On" and "Captain Kangaroo" occurred as we romped downstream (a thermal was a mistake and I rarely say that). I can only apologise if the sudden Celine Dion confused Matti. Notably one formation in the streamway is called the Sabre. A Saber's presence is always appreciated on a caving trip and I realise now we should have sung "Bingo Granny" too. We definitely didn't see all of the pretties though so I could be lured back to visit these someday.
Out by 3:05 with a 2 ½ hour trip under our belt. With the 2 ¼ hours of walking the trip filled the day nicely. I wish I had not slipped into a knee-deep pool near the sump because a 4km walk in wet wetsocks is bad for the feet. We bumped into Ana and Una's group coming down from Top and were back at the hut after 4 for tea and medals.
A Canticle for Tangowitz
We arose with the shafts of light peeking through cracks in the ruined building. Where there was once only the ordered slumber of 20 sleepers now was the chaos of a morning preparation. Food and tea prepared in vast quantities, gear and tackle dusted off and gathered, access and keys carefully negotiated with wary locals.
It had been a while since we had last been here, but the work of the Order never ends and we had uncovered more hints and clues in the archives that drew us back. In fact we had several places to explore on this expedition and we had wisely decided to make efficient use of our resources by combining our efforts for the arduous journey here, only splitting up at the last moment.
The trials ahead for me were neatly encapsulated on the filthy yellowing paper that I stared at in the morning. Entitled “Pant Mawr” (meaning something like Big Hole in the local tongue) a series of cryptic lines and symbols preceded a description in an ancient script. Most people would be horrified if they could read it for it instructs the reader to descend most unnaturally into the bowels of the Earth. There are many such documents and why they exist we cannot say, for they are surprisingly unrelated to our mission however fortuitously useful they are.
I selected my team for the day; Fiona, a veteran of many missions, and Matti, a new initiate. Also joining us would be Dave, though he was relegated to surface work. We equipped ourselves with the tools of our trade; coarse protective overalls, great strong ropes, and the iron work that allows us to climb it spider like.
Before setting off I was accosted by a local who kindly offered his advice.
“Don’t be tempted to walk over the hill, it’s all ups and downs” he confided “There’s an old tramway, flat land you see, that goes almost all the way there. Follow that.”.
With that good advice we began walking, along the tramway as advised. Why had people of so long ago levelled the land such? Where were they going, and what did they find at the end? These mysterious abound in this old world with many inexplicable relics all around us. Of course there is no way of knowing when these monuments to a grander past were built, but we know they are from before the Order’s records began many hundreds of years ago.
We found ourselves walking high up into the hills with long views all around, truly beautiful in the bright daylight. A stark contrast from what awaited us. In the centre of a large field (at the alignment of the ends of two woodlands, our ancient manuscript accurately foretold) was Pant Mawr, a yawning mouth of darkness. It is enough to send the most fearless running but we have done this many times, as our research unearths another location to check for treasures.
We lowered our ropes down, and then ourselves using contraptions built at great expense in our workshops. Landing in the vast, dark room we lit lamps which cast eery grey shadows across the walls. Staying close together we descended down a slope of loose rocks and boulders until we arrived at a stream.
Our notes told us that following the stream would be a wise idea, and we did for as long as it was possible. But twice the stream disappeared under rocks and into cracks and we were forced to climb and clamber aboved into chambers and antechambers made of mud clad rock. Both times however we refound the stream and continued the descent.
The passage was decorated in a gothic fashion with great spikes and gargoyles of pure white rock. Also present in their thousands were glistening straw like protrusions. It would be beautiful if it were not so unnerving.
After an hour of nervous progression we found the passage narrowing. Foam covered the walls, up to the ceiling metres above our heads. Bitter experience meant we knew this meant that the cavern would flood catastrophically. Finally we could continue no further as the ceiling ducked into the water. Matti clambered above the water, transfixed by it’s mystery,
“Hark!” cried Fiona “A foul thrall of hell!”
“That is no way to talk about Matti” I replied
“Nay” she rebuffed “Gaze upon yonder frog”
So we did and so there was. A most lost frog sitting, occasionally hopping, above the water. The frog evidently decided that the icy water was preferable to our company and lept in.
But we were not here for frogs. We scoured the walls until we found what we were looking for. A small solid box, labelled with our patron’s elegant handwriting.
“What is it?” asked Matti.
“Have you not yet see one?” said Fiona “You are indeed young. Let us hope this is the first of many”.
“It is a magnetic tape” I replied “We have yet to recover the technology to read them, but we are sure that the Founder Tangowitz would not have spent all those treacherous years during the fall hiding them if they did not contain important knowledge for the reconstruction of civilization”
We fondled the tape, imagining all those years ago that Tangowitz stood where we stood, hiding the tape, knowing that he would never see it used.
“Can you read the label” asked Matti in awe.
I passed it to Fiona who translated aloud “Instructions for..hmm...Gratin”. It was clear she had sounded out that last strange word phonetically.
“What’s a Gratin?” I asked Fiona.
“I don’t know” she replied “But it must be information of the greatest importance.”
“Let’s get it back to the archives then” I offered.
We began the trip out, happy to have secured another remnant, to have carried out the Tangowitz’s wishes.